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Patrick Henry: First Among Patriots Hardcover – November 22, 2011
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Daniel L. Dreisbach, American University and author of Thomas Jefferson and the Wall of Separation Between Church and State
Few characters of the American Revolution are more celebrated and, yet, less understood than Patrick Henry. In this vivid portrait of the firebrand orator, Thomas S. Kidd scrapes away the myths and misconceptions that have long obscured our understanding of Henry, revealing a patriot of uncommon conviction, vision, and, yes, contradictions. This engaging biography offers rich insights into not only Henry's controversial life but also the tumultuous age and fractured society in which he lived a world turned upside down by the cruel institution of slavery, religious revivals and disestablishment, a bitter separation from Great Britain, and the creation of a new nation.”
Thomas Kidd's account of the life of Patrick Henry combines first-rate scholarship with a lively and elegant gift for story-telling. It makes a powerful case for the Virginia orator's pre-eminent role in the fight to limit central government power during the era of the Revolution and early republic.”
Wilfred M. McClay, SunTrust Chair of Excellence in Humanities, University of Tennessee at Chattanooga
We've long needed this book, a fresh look at the life of Patrick Henry, the forest-born Demosthenes” who became one of the most eminent of American patriots, and one of the greatest orators and phrasemakers of early American history. His historical reputation has suffered somewhat because of his opposition to the Constitution, but as Thomas Kidd shows in this vivid and lucid new biography, that judgment fails to do him justice. Indeed, his fears of the Constitution's tendency toward consolidation and empire turned out to be well-founded, and the principal themes of his life, including his emphasis upon the cultivation of virtue and the protection of limited government, have never been more relevant. May this fine book lead to a long-overdue reconsideration of a great but neglected figure.”
Mark Noll, Francis A. McAnaney Professor of History, University of Notre Dame, and author of America's God: From Jonathan Edwards to Abraham Lincoln
Patrick Henry is well known for crying Give me liberty or give me death' at a crucial moment in the struggle for American independence. This well-researched biography shows that there was a great deal more to this strangely neglected founding father. Thomas Kidd is especially compelling on why Henry's life-long devotion to liberty could never move him to free his own slaves and why that same devotion led him to OPPPOSE the United States Constitution of 1787. The book is accessible history at its best.”
Kidd's biography awakens us to the depths of Henry's devotion to liberty and small government.”
[A] lively portrait...Kidd skillfully traces Henry's rise from a young farm boy in Virginia to a political figure whose passionate support of liberty won him the friendship of Washington, Jefferson, and Madison.... Kidd's passionate biography offers compelling new insights into the life of one of America's most beloved figures.”
An easily digestible tribute to an important and still-controversial American icon.”
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However, overall, and with that said, I found the book well-written, historically accurate, fair, and engaging. As an example, he doesn't hid Henry's great talents as an orator, his devotion to the Christian faith, or his penchant for land speculation. He shows Henry as a man dedicated to freedom, and he fairly presents his opposition to the Constitution. He notes that many of Henry's fears regarding the Constitution have come to pass, and, in a particularly well done chapter at the end of the book, he endeavors to tell us what he thinks Henry would think about our current situation. Here is a sample: "[I]t is no great leap to imagine that Patrick Henry would fundamentally object to nearly every feature of today's titanic national government. This statement is not to place Henry on either side of today's political spectrum: he would disapprove equally of the massive, top-down social programs championed by the Left, the globetrotting military power championed by the Right, and the bailouts of financial companies championed by a majority of politicians in 2008. Unlike many of his Christian conservative admirers today, he would not approve of America's recent ventures associated with the War on Terrorism . . . . Henry would probably find that today's America has almost nothing in common with the republic of liberty he envisioned in 1776. On the other hand, the national government has seemingly burst all bounds of power on the domestic and international stages, and on the other, the notion of a virtuous republic has been almost entirely abandoned in favor of what people of Henry's age would have called "license." To him, consolidated political power and ethical license historically triggered the loss of true liberty and the rise of moral and political tyranny." (p. 252-253.) That paragraph certainly shows the fairness of the treatment of Henry and the modern situation!
I heartily recommend this book.
James Madison, Edmund Pendleton, Thomas Jefferson as of 1780, Alexander Hamilton, atheistic Frenchmen and just about all the rest of those 89 yeh voters were Henry's nemeses among many. Thomas Kidd shows Henry as brash and confrontational, not a surprise to any reader who's heard not only of "give me liberty or give my death" but of his wife in chains at the time of that oration.Kidd also shows the Patrick Henry who opposed the Constitution for its concentration of federal power and its lean away from religion, Henry being one to support freedom "of" religion much more so than freedom "from" religion. The question I would still have: who were the 79 voting against the Constitution and making its legacy not, at the time, such a sure thing? (George Mason and James Monroe, also much less revered and men of ideas more than action.)
What disqualifies Henry from the top rank of Founding Fathers is not his opposition to the Constitution. In business, Henry did not accomplish enough to fill up one chapter. In military matters, all accounts agree this was simply not his forte. Although to his credit he was something of a self-made man, his one niche in Colonial era government was protest of centralized and tyrannical power, be it British or presidential. It makes no sense for someone today to disqualify a Tea Party candidate from government because of that candidate's stance against the wielding of government interference and programs, but Henry in the 1780s and 1790s functioned from the outside looking in without outlining how a political figure such as himself could be a silent partner to democratic pockets run by states.